A solution to Syria?

A report from Foreign Policy notes that a solution might be possible to end the war in Syria, “A top State Department official said Tuesday that the chances of crafting a political transition in Syria were better than “at any time during this crisis,” a striking note of optimism given the unrelenting carnage of the country’s nearly five-year-old civil war. Speaking at Foreign Policy’s annual Transformational Trends forum in Washington, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Russia’s military intervention to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad had “ironically” hastened progress towards a potential diplomatic solution to the conflict, which has killed some 250,000 people and sparked the largest refugee crisis since World War II”.

The piece mentions “Blinken’s comments came just weeks after leaders from the U.S., Russia, Britain, Iran, Saudi Arabia met in Vienna to sign a statement in support of a January 1 deadline for the start of negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition. The agreement does not yet have buy-in from the Syrian rebels or the Assad regime. In explaining his optimism, Blinken argued that the Moscow’s support to Assad, in the form of airstrikes, arms transfers, and financial assistance, has “increased Russia’s leverage” over Assad, the strongman whose departure will be necessary to end the conflict.  “He owes them,” Blinken said”.

Importantly he writes that “He also noted that Russia’s intervention in Syria has trapped the Kremlin into a fight that it can’t sustain politically, financially or strategically. “Russia is perceived now with being in alliance with Assad, Hezbollah and Iran, and thus against the interests of the vast majority of the Muslim world,” he said. “The risk there is that its own community, 15 percent of Russia is comprised of Sunni Muslims, will be enraged, and other communities from Central Asia to the Balkans will take it out on Russia,” Blinken said. This is not the first time a State Department official has gone on record with surprisingly optimistic assessments of the state of the Syrian peace talks. Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry said “we’re weeks away conceivably from the possibility of a big transition for Syria, and I don’t think enough people necessarily notice that. But that’s the reality.” Those comments prompted guffaws from critics who noted that any significant diplomatic accomplishment was at best months away, given the logistical challenges of agreeing to a ceasefire and holding elections, much less even forging an agreement between the fractured Syrian opposition”.

The piece ends “In his remarks Tuesday, Blinken went on to tout the accomplishments of last month’s Syria summit in Vienna, which built momentum behind a ceasefire agreement in Syria, but left the most important problem of the crisis unsolved — the fate of Assad. Still, Blinken noted that the Vienna talks marked the first time that Iran and Russia had ever agreed on the “need for a political transition in Syria.” “That’s a first,” he said. “We now have, without exaggerating its potential, a greater possibility at achieving a political transition in Syria than we did just a few months ago and arguably at any time during this crisis.”

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